Cultivating imagination and lifelong passion
Most of formal education consists of systematically interfering with every spontaneous interest that a child has, and I don’t think that’s a good thing.
There is a collection of letters that was just published by Richard Feynman’s daughter—Feynman, who became famous in American culture over the shuttle disaster that was caused by the O-rings that malfunctioned. He had been involved in nuclear physics for his whole career. He was involved in the Manhattan Project, and so on. So, not the sort of guy who is a household name, even as a Nobel Laureate, but there were a lot of people who knew him. From the time that he won the Nobel Prize in Physics, for the rest of his life, as now becomes obvious from this collection of letters, is that people wrote to him saying, “I have a son or I have a daughter; how do I get them to become interested in physics?” And he gives the same—not, I don’t think, imitating [Einstein], but he gives the same answer. He said, “The best thing that you can do is let this child exercise their own intelligence, follow their own interests because if they are going to become a nuclear physicist, they are going to find it. If they are not going to become a nuclear physicist, you can’t lead them there.” So, over and over, again, he gives the same kind of message, that it’s critically important to develop the intellect, that the sort of spontaneous experience of following one’s own interests as a child is not interfered with. Most of formal education consists of systematically interfering with every spontaneous interest that a child has, and I don’t think that’s a good thing.
The famous movie in which Ronald Reagan played the football player who lost his leg and says, when he discovers that he’s lost his leg, “Where is the rest of me?” We all have a sense—and it’s an obsessive sense in a fashion-oriented world—that if there is any part of us that isn’t absolutely perfect, then we can’t even go outdoors. We are really preoccupied with our appearance. The physical body is an object of, really, very close attention. Masses of people wouldn’t be making obscene amounts of money selling stuff to people who are worried about their appearance if this weren’t so. We are also very preoccupied with image. We have television; we have digital cameras; we now, as my wife and I have discovered, we now can see our new granddaughter over the internet, because we have this little device that is attached to the computer. So, we pay a lot of attention to physical appearance and we connect that with some sense of self.
I became aware of the fact that in dealing with people who are performers that there is another kind of self that has nothing to do with looking good in the fashion magazine sense. It’s a self that is realized in fluency of movement. I was told something really quite striking by a woman who is the head of the piano department of Julliard, Yoheved Kaplinsky; she was telling me that some of her students have this sort of native raw talent, this really genius at the instrument, at the piano, that, really, the teacher can only stand out of their way. They (the teacher) understand this business about interference. She said, “But, there is something quite striking; that a student like this can come to you and they play a particular piece of music with extraordinary musicality and physical fluency, but you can see in it the beginning of something that is going to grow into a problem. If you’re not careful with a student like this, just changing the fingering of a passage, of a single passage will alienate that student from the piece of music. They’ll play it and they will look at their hand or they’ll feel it kinesthetically and they’ll say, “This is not me. I’m the way I played it before; that’s me.” So, it’s a quite literal physically incarnated sense of self that is achieve through years and years of perfection of and sensitivity to how the body actually moves.
Now, most of us never really . . . I mean we get out of bed and we walk down the street and we stumble around, and we don’t think about ourselves as ballet stars when we present ourselves to the public. But, the fact of the matter is that that’s also something that is innately true of us. All armature athletes worry about does their golf swing look right, or does my tennis swing look right? We go to the gym, and do I look right when I am lifting weights, because I don’t want people to laugh at me, to think that I’m no good. So, we do have a sort of native sense that, yeah, the way we look when we move counts. But, we don’t see that underneath that, over a period of years and years, as we grow, that the thing that we refer to psychologically as “me” is intimately bound up with how we use our bodies.